After an exclusive MotorTrend first test of the new 1,020-hp 2022 Tesla Model S Plaid, a car with a promised 1.99-second 0-60-mph time, we can confirm the 2.0-second 0-60 barrier remains unbroken. Unless, that is, you write your own rules.
Yes, and allow us to explain. Tesla granted us access to be the first independent source to test the 2022 Model S Plaid before its June 10 customer-delivery event. It’s the latest and greatest version of an EV we chose as our 2013 Car of the Year and which we declared to be our Ultimate Car of the Year in 2019.
As many MotorTrend readers know, we usually test at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. Our figure-eight and skidpad testing happens in Lot 1. (You can see our tire marks on Google Maps, in fact.) Our acceleration and braking tests occur on Auto Club’s dragstrip. But we run the strip backward to better simulate the type of asphalt and corresponding grip level found on countless streets around the world. Running the track in the “correct” direction means launching on a prepped surface coated with super-sticky VHT, a thick, black, grippy resin that allows cars to accelerate quicker than is possible on normal roads. Because testing on VHT isn’t representative of the conditions real-world drivers typically encounter, our records show we’ve done so only twice in MotorTrend‘s 72-year history: in 1969 and 2002, both times in heavily modified, drag-race-prepped Corvettes.
During planning, Tesla requested that we not use our normal facility. After much back and forth, we offered to secure use of an automotive proving ground where we conduct Of The Year testing. Tesla then told us we could accept its offer of hosting us at Famoso Raceway near Bakersfield, California, or we could forget the whole thing. We accepted.
Then, at the track on test day, Tesla informed us it would require our driver to launch the car only on the VHT-prepped surface. But after further on-site negotiations and a backward pre-run by Tesla’s own test driver, we came to an agreement: We could conduct runs in each direction, on both the Tesla-requested VHT and, per our normal procedure, on regular asphalt. As we were preparing to run our tests, the Plaid’s handlers received a phone call, and suddenly our options were once again to launch only on the VHT-prepped surface—or leave.
After our own internal discussions, we chose a third option: We agreed to Tesla’s conditions at Famoso and made plans to head to our Fontana test track the following day to see how quick the Model S Plaid would be when tested under the same conditions we’ve used to safely and effectively evaluate everything from economy cars to the world’s fastest hypercars.
Before we delve into the numbers, let’s recap the Model S Plaid’s truly impressive specs. Essentially the first significant update in the Model S’ nine-year production run, the new 2022 version is slightly lower, longer, and lighter than before, unrecognizable inside, and significantly more powerful.
The reworked sheetmetal features subtly flared fenders designed to accommodate wider wheels and tires. The wheels now measure 9.5 inches wide in front and 10.5 inches wide in the rear, increases of 1.0 and 1.5 inches. The car also features revised front and rear fascias, plus a reworked hood. The highest-performance Plaid also gets a new rear diffuser and a carbon-fiber spoiler.
Inside, Tesla drastically reworked the interior to make it more luxurious, spacious, and entertaining—in fact, the company says the front seat rails are the only retained parts. The new dash is the biggest change. It features a landscape-oriented infotainment system similar to that of the Model 3 and the Model Y, a new digital instrument cluster, a new screen for rear passengers, hidden HVAC vents, and, of course, the controversial “yoke” steering wheel.
The most significant changes are hidden beneath the skin. The Model S Plaid features Tesla’s first-ever triple-motor system, producing a staggering 1,020 horsepower and 1,050 lb-ft of torque.
The Plaid’s single front and twin rear motors are essentially modified versions of those found in the Model 3/Model Y. However, in the Plaid they feature novel carbon-fiber sleeves that allow the motor rotors to spin at 20,000 rpm to achieve the car’s claimed 200-mph top speed without punching through the stator. These carbon sleeves, Tesla says, make a more complex two-speed transmission like the one seen on the Porsche Taycan unnecessary. They also give the Model S Plaid a shockingly linear powerband: Tesla says peak horsepower happens at 80 mph and holds steady all the way to 200 mph (provided you’ve dropped $4,500 on the optional 21-inch wheels and your car has a yet-to-be-released software update; in its current state the Plaid is limited to 163 mph).
The battery pack was always the Achilles’ heel of earlier Model S performance variants, so Tesla updated it significantly to take full advantage of the tri-motor system. It’s slightly smaller than before (100 kWh on the Plaid versus about 104 kWh on the Model S Performance this car replaces), but Tesla focused its efforts on improving coolant and electrical current paths. The end goal is better thermal capacity, ensuring the Plaid can deliver sustained performance without overheating or power reduction. As an added bonus, Tesla engineers say the changes help the Model S battery pack charge quicker, too. The EPA rates the Model S Plaid on 21-inch wheels (like our test car) at 348 miles of range. We found that figure to be generally accurate in our own independent range and charge tests.
Rounding out the Model S Plaid is a revised air suspension with adaptive dampers, custom Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires, and the front brakes are now slightly larger than before.
No matter the surface, to get the quickest launch from a 2022 Tesla Model S Plaid, you must dive into the car’s infotainment system and select Drag Strip mode. Over the next eight to 15 minutes (the time needed varies), the car preconditions the powertrain for hard acceleration, heating or cooling the battery as needed and chilling the motors.
Once you’ve enabled Drag Strip mode, quickly chirp the tires on the VHT—at Famoso, it was caked on so thick it very nearly pulled our shoes off—by stabbing the throttle to clear any debris from the tires. To engage launch control, push hard on the brake, press the accelerator to the floor, and wait. Over the next nine or so seconds, the Model S’ nose drops into the Plaid’s “cheetah stance.” When the final “launch control ready” message is displayed, firmly press your noggin against the headrest (trust us), release the brake, and hang on.
The Model S Plaid zips down the quarter mile in a staggeringly quick 9.25 seconds at 152.6 mph. The run from 0 to 60 mph happens just 1.98 seconds after the brutally hard launch. The Plaid covers distance so quickly, it’s difficult to even register what’s happening. The yoke gets light in your hands, your neck muscles strain as your helmeted head digs into the headrest, and your surroundings blur into mere shapes and colors as a quarter mile of pavement vanishes underneath you.
Cheater surface or not, the time is staggeringly impressive. Even more impressive and true to Tesla’s word, the Plaid is capable of posting those times consistently, never varying by more than a fraction of a second or so each time we rocketed down the strip. We’ve never tested a car so robotic in its consistency.
The biggest differentiators we found between quicker and slower runs were mostly environmental, like rolling over a tar snake at the wrong time or, as the day dragged on, the hot afternoon sun making it slightly more challenging for the Plaid to keep its batteries and motors at their ideal temperatures. The brakes were the car’s sole wart, overheating after our last run of the day.
Tesla’s stated rationale for its stance with us regarding VHT launches is that “most customers” will run the Model S Plaid at dragstrips. But despite its speed, we’d be shocked if this were true. For starters, the NHRA—drag racing’s sanctioning body—will ban any vehicle quicker than 9.99 seconds or faster than 135 mph in the quarter from running at any of its tracks if said vehicle does not have the necessary safety equipment (as it famously did to the Dodge Challenger Demon). This includes a full roll cage, window net, driver restraint system, driveshaft loop (obviously not applicable in this situation), and master cutoff switch, not to mention a full race suit and helmet for the driver. Tesla is aware of this; its personnel joked with the track staff about being thrown off the strip for being too quick after our runs. Tesla says it has no plans to offer any of the necessary safety gear to make the Model S Plaid NHRA-legal.
Even with the necessary safety gear, the Plaid isn’t suited for bracket racing when using launch control. Without a friendly dragstrip Christmas tree operator, you’re likely to still be standing at the staging line when the lights turn green: Remember, the car needs nearly 10 seconds just to get into its cheetah stance.
The next day at our usual Fontana stomping grounds, we performed our braking and skidpad testing and repeated all but one of the acceleration tests we ran at Famoso. We were unable to run the full quarter mile again, as Fontana requires us to hire EMTs and rescue personnel when our testing might reach high speeds. They also require two weeks’ notice to do so, which we didn’t have. Even so, using our Vbox data from both the prepped surface at Famoso and the unprepped asphalt at Fontana, we could stitch together a reasonable estimate of what the Model S Plaid is capable of in a non-VHT-aided quarter mile.
With an air of anticipation, we lined up the Model S Plaid for its acceleration tests and waited impatiently as the car spent the next 10 minutes or so readying itself in Drag Strip mode. The times to beat in order to be the quickest production car we’ve ever tested: 0-60 mph in 2.28 seconds, achieved in 2017 at the same track with a Model S P100D Ludicrous+, and a quarter-mile run of 9.74 seconds at 148.5 mph, done in 2015 in a Ferrari LaFerrari.
Once ready and in its cheetah stance, the Model S Plaid’s launch is drama-free, even without the added advantage of VHT. The electric car accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in just 2.07 seconds, more than 0.2 second quicker than our previous record holder. Eliminate the customary one-foot of rollout and the Plaid accelerates from 0-60 mph in 2.28 seconds, matching the previous record holder with rollout. And if we could have kept going, our data says it’s capable of running through the quarter mile in 9.34 seconds at 152.2 mph.
The gap between the Model S’ times on prepped and unprepped surfaces is astonishingly close, as just 0.09 second separates them to 60 mph.
Amusingly, the Plaid launches so ferociously hard, it generates more than 1.00 g from 0.2 second to 2.6 seconds after launch, peaking at 1.227 g at 32 mph. That’s more g than the car generated in its best 60-0-mph stop, which required 104 feet and peaked at 1.221 g.
So, yes, this all makes the 2022 Tesla Model S Plaid the quickest production car we’ve ever tested—an immense accomplishment. It’s also among the quickest vehicles on sale today, though Rimac recently claimed quicker 0-60 and quarter-mile performance for its Nevera hypercar with a European journalist driving. We look forward to independently verifying Rimac’s claims, as well.
The Model S Plaid’s 1,020 horsepower and lightning-quick acceleration paid dividends in our figure-eight test, too. It lapped our course in 23.5 seconds at an average of 0.90 g. Meanwhile, “with the steering and chassis in Sport mode, it feels sporty but also rather heavy on the skidpad,” road test editor Chris Walton said. “It eventually begins to drift wide. It’s not necessarily understeer but more like momentum carries it there. Eventually, both the brakes and tires lose effectiveness.”
Not content with shattering our 0-60 and quarter-mile records, the Model S Plaid claimed yet another one: Its blistering 0-100-0-mph result was 8.2 seconds, besting the previous record holder, the McLaren Senna, by 0.3 second.
Ironically, the breathtaking straight-line achievements distract from another monumental achievement: The Model S Plaid is quite simply the best Tesla yet. It doesn’t matter if you’re cruising down the highway, slogging through city traffic, or slicing down your favorite back road. The Model S Plaid delivers, no matter what you ask it to do.
On the highway and around town, the 2022 Tesla Model S Plaid is comfortable, quiet, and a delightful place to pass the miles. Thanks to its air suspension and adaptive dampers, the ride is supple and well controlled over all but the most brutal of impacts.
The rectangular steering yoke, as expected, is a total pain to use at low speeds. The Plaid’s 14.0:1 steering ratio needs to be at least twice as quick to make parallel parking, multiple-point turns, and U-turns less frustrating and more intuitive. Alternatively, a variable-ratio steering system could help at lower speeds, too.
The Plaid’s power more than makes up for the yoke hassle. We’re used to instant off-the-line acceleration from EVs, but this car’s ability to deliver and maintain a similarly intense shove well into extralegal speeds is certainly a new experience. Every on-ramp and freeway passing maneuver becomes an exercise in self-control, as even breathing on the accelerator for a beat too long could quickly result in an unscheduled roadside appointment with the highway patrol.
On Southern California’s famed Angeles Crest Highway, the Model S Plaid demonstrates Tesla learned a lot since its flagship car first hit the road. Although maybe not as pin-drop precise as is the Porsche Taycan Turbo S on the same road, the Model S Plaid is Tesla’s most compelling performance car yet.
Unhindered by the thinner air effect at altitude that plagues cars with internal combustion engines, power delivery remains otherworldly, like a torquey small-block V-8 with an endless powerband. The Tesla’s 1,020 horses and 1,050 lb-ft of torque allow you to rocket hard out of corners and eat up every straight. The Plaid’s brakes, despite overheating at the track, are more than up to the task of reining in the Tesla on public roads, though we’d prefer more initial bite at the top of the pedal’s travel.
At higher speeds on a good back road, the yoke becomes a nonissue, as you never need to dial in more than 90 degrees of input, even on tight hairpin turns. The steering’s artificial heaviness gives the impression it lacks a bit of precision, but it’s easy to keep the wheels pointed where you want them. Somewhat surprisingly, we didn’t feel much torque vectoring coming from the rear axle. Getting on the throttle early midcorner doesn’t result in the Model S pivoting quickly and clawing out of the curve like you experience in most other high-power all-wheel-drive vehicles. Instead, it pushes hard on its outside tires even as it avoids true understeer. A more aggressive Sport suspension setting could help; even with the system in its firmest mode, the Plaid still exhibited a tendency to lean hard, much in the way many hot hatches do.
Prices for the 2022 Tesla Model S Plaid start at $131,190. The fully loaded Plaid we tested costs $149,190, about the price of a Taycan Turbo, and about $15,000 less than a Taycan Turbo S. (Of note: Teslas no longer qualify for any federal tax incentives.) And if you’re wondering why Tesla called this the Plaid, well, it’s the only step beyond Ludicrous—the company’s label for its heretofore quickest acceleration mode—in the 1987 Mel Brooks comedy movie Spaceballs. And no, there is no plaid anywhere on or in the car.
Although the 2022 Tesla Model S Plaid didn’t deliver a sub-2.0-second 0-60 time on typical asphalt—at least not yet—it’s no less of a striking achievement for the California-based automaker: The quickest car we’ve ever tested is a $150K five-seat sedan, not some multimillion-dollar, carbon-fiber-encrusted road missile. It’s remarkably well rounded, exhibiting a combination of comfort, luxury, performance, and efficiency that remained a sci-fi fantasy in 2013 when we named the Model S the MotorTrend Car of the Year. Regardless of how much you care about acceleration numbers and how they’re achieved, perhaps the most important takeaway is that the Model S Plaid is absolutely among the best cars on the market today.